Martin Heidegger is undoubtedly one of the greatest philosophers in the modern era. In his work, Sein und Zeit, he introduces a disturbing but nevertheless, interesting theory that I believe can be seen in context with my previous article on depressive realism.
The person who draws his own illusory connection between things and perceives the world through rose tinted glasses, whom psychology defines as mentally healthy, has great similarities to what Heidegger calls Das Man. I’ll explain why.
Who is Das Man?
The description of das man is an important part of Sein und Zeit. It is what Heidegger’s philosophy, if understood correctly, will help you gain an understanding of and release you from by becoming authentic [i].
Das Man is a person who has traded authenticity in exchange of conformity by becoming similar to the many. He is an inauthentic being and to use Heidegger’s terms, a part of “the they”. To be more specific, das man is the death of individuality.
Becoming das man is a sacrifice in favor of an easier way of being. A more painless existence.
How do we turn into Das Man? This has to do with our capacity to understand existential questions. Humans have struggled with the problem of being since the dawn of time and Das Man is the result of our difficulty to understand our existential conditions. He came into being due to the lack of a clear inner acknowledgement of truth in answering: “what is it all about?”.
“Our history is a long journey of escaping the brutal truth of existence. It’s an escape of our meeting with death and nothingness.”
Now, the history of the world and of the culture we grow up in, shapes our current situation and becomes the layer from where we deduce our conceptions and beliefs. As we are born, we fall into this current stream of common knowledge of how things are and take our part in it by becoming as “the others”. Doing this we partake in a shared identity, the mind of the many, and this is Das man. He who thinks, speaks and acts as the others do. A person who does as one does.
Das Man unravels nothing of importance, he does not pressure for an answer or seek a greater insight to what it means to be a human being, but rather settles with the mediocre understanding. This shared identity is a consequence of existential questions such as: What is it all about? Becoming Das Man releases you from answering this as it is already given by the way of being in the world.
“When you ask as you, the echo of emptiness will fill your hearth. When das man asks, the echoes of thousands will answer.”
The only way to release oneself from Das Man is to face what we always are, and always have been, fleeing from — the concept of death and nothingness.
This however, is outside the scope of this post as my intention is to draw out the similarities between Das Man and the theory of depressive realism.
The mentally healthy Das Man
How can this be seen in light of the theory called depressive realism?
I think Das Man have many of the same features as those said to be perceiving the world through rose tinted glasses and here is why: Those defined as mentally healthy exhibit a need to see things work out as they want them to, even if this implies illusion and self-deception. They need to see the efforts they put in really matters and makes a difference. They demonstrate a conception belonging to a group where this is the normal way of understanding the world. They need to see there being a causal connection between the events in the world to make sense of things.
The group defined as depressed however, failed correctly to see this connection and thereby proving a more accurate perception of reality, and in my opinion, inhabits a greater authenticity than the group defined as mentally healthy. Point being, letting the mind deceive oneself is a choice one chooses in meeting with things that don’t add up. One exhibits the need to see causality by claiming and acting as there is. Such choice is to further existence in deception and illusion.
Being authentic means to face the conception of our finitude and understanding deaths inevitability and individualizing its impact and consequence. Coming to grips with this stops the falling into Das Man and to the realization of the impossibility to hide or escape. This might lead you to feeling homeless in the world and be defined as symptoms of depression, and it might very well be, but I will argue that this being is closer to reality than any others are.
“Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one. — Heidegger”
Borne by anxiety
Beneath this need lies the reason we start fleeing in the first place, the origin of Das Man — anxiety. I will go further into this in my next post drawing upon both Heidegger and the Norwegian philosopher, Peter Wessel Zapffe.
[i] Heidegger, M. (1996) Being and time : a translation of Sein und Zeit, Sein und Zeit. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press (SUNY series in contemporary continental philosophy).